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Will France’s flight ban help fight climate change? It’s up in the air.

PARIS – France has passed a law banning some domestic flights and encouraging passengers to take trains instead. Under the new law, flights that could be replaced by train journeys of less than two and a half hours should be cancelled.

The ban on short-hop flights became law on Tuesday. However, France’s national airline has already canceled three routes that were deemed too high for carbon emissions. All three departed from Paris’s second airport, Orly, serving Bordeaux, Lyon and Nantes. All three cities are within the country’s extensive high-speed rail network, and taking the train is also much faster than flying there.

Air France agreed to give up those direct routes in 2020 in exchange for coronavirus financial support from the government.

Critics say the ban will have a negligible effect on carbon emissions. Laurent Doncil, interim head of Europe’s industry group Airlines, which represents several airlines including Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and Ryanair, dismissed the law as a “symbolic ban”. He told the Agence France-Presse news service that governments should instead support “real and significant solutions” to airline emissions.

While the ban sounds like a good idea to help fight climate change, in reality there are several caveats that severely limit its scope. The replacement train service must be frequent, punctual and allow travelers to travel to and from their starting point on the same day, giving them a full eight hours at their destination.

The choice of designated train stations as departure points has also stifled plans to limit short-haul flights from Paris’ main airport. Charles de Gaulle. The comparable train station is the one at the airport — which has a much more limited service than Paris’ seven main line stations.

This means that while you can’t fly directly to Bordeaux from Orly, you can fly from CDG to the southwestern wine city. In fact, the only routes that will be affected by the ban are the three Orly routes that no longer operate.

An Air France Airbus plane lands at Athens International Airport on July 15, 2019.

An Air France Airbus plane lands at Athens International Airport on July 15, 2019.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An exception to the ban allows flights with transfers to continue operating, and has resulted in some complex routes that take much longer than direct flights or trains — and mean more harmful emissions on takeoff and landing.

For example, a direct route from Paris to Lyon in eastern France, the capital of gastronomy and a business center, would take less than an hour from Orly. That route was canceled as it was considered unnecessary. You can still fly from Orly to Lyon — but you’ll have to fly south via Nice, changing planes to get back to Lyon, a flight time of three hours, 15 minutes.

In contrast, a high-speed train from Paris will get you to central Lyon in just two hours. Or you can still fly direct from De Gaulle within an hour. However, when you add in trips to and from the airport, check in and going through security checkpoints the total journey takes considerably longer.

The quest for lower emissions has led European airlines to examine several options. Air France recently announced plans to renew its fleet in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. It said it would increase the use of sustainable aviation fuel.

The airline already has a train and flight partnership with France’s national rail company SNCF to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It allows passengers to combine plane and train reservations into one booking, essentially allowing people to compare travel methods quickly and easily.

Aviation news website Runway Girl Network reports that Spanish airline Iberia is currently expanding its flight and train combination offer. Dutch airline KLM is buying seats on the high-speed train from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Brussels for its one daily flight between the two cities.

When the ban was first proposed as part of France’s 2021 climate law, transport minister Clément Biun called it “a major step forward in the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.

“I am proud that France is a pioneer in this field,” he added.

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